Podcast Episode 59 – History of the Reagan Assassination Attempt

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On March 30, 1981, President Ronald Reagan was shot and wounded in an assassination attempt by John Hinckley Jr. outside the Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C.

Reagan had just finished giving a speech when Hinckley fired six shots, hitting Reagan and three other people. Reagan was rushed to the hospital and underwent surgery to remove a bullet from his lung. Here is the history of that event…


History of the Ronald Reagan Assassination Attempt

Scott: March 30th, 1981. It was a Monday, like many Spring Mondays in the DC area. Overcast and cool enough to warrant wearing a jacket as a spring was ushering in the cherry blossoms and slowly but surely chasing away that bitter winter chill. The day was like any other, but not for long. Yes, this was still our nation’s capital and there were politicians, journalists, labor leaders, and many other people at the , Washington Hilton, for the Reaganomics speech that had just been given.

In fact, there were several hundred people at this AFL C I O fundraiser with the keynote speaker being none other than the Gipper himself. It was 2:27 PM. That the Secret Service announced to in each other’s ears that “Rawhide” was on the move walking to his vehicle to head back home when all of a sudden gunshots rang out and President Ronald Reagan was shot.

Welcome to Talk With History. I am your host Scott, here with my wife and historian Jen. Hello. On this podcast, we give you insights to our history inspired both travels, YouTube channel journey, and examine history through deeper conversations with the curious, the explorers and the history lovers out there.

Now, before we get into talking about this historic event tonight, that happened 42 years ago on the date today. I want to ask our listeners for reviews on Apple Podcast, Spotify, or wherever you listen now that we’re on YouTube with this podcast, a YouTube like or YouTube share would be great. It really helps the show grow and no one else is gonna bring history to you like this.

And the History Channel certainly doesn’t do it either. That’s right. That’s right. We need to bring history back to the History channel. We need to bring it back and, but seriously, history Channel, give us a call, right. Chip and Joanna Gaines of the History channel right here. 

Jenn: We’ll do a whole series on location.

Yeah. And interview people and show you just like we do with this. We actually visited the 

Scott: location. That’s right. Jen, tell us about what we’re 

[00:02:15] Assassination Attempt of Ronald Reagan

Jenn: talking about tonight. So this is the assassination attempt of President Ronald Reagan happened 42 years ago today, 1981, and he had just given a speech in our nation’s capital.

And he was walking outside. And it’s interesting because this Washington Hilton had made this entrance for presidential speeches. That’s right. Kennedy had been there a couple times. This was a place they had a pretty good covering where they could let you off and then you could walk. If you see that kind of brick area that’s a walkway where you can walk inside that brick area to go.

And speak. So it’s pretty well protected. And that’s where Reagan was going to give a speech to, I think union workers. Yeah. And Reaganomics. Yep. And he had just finished giving the speech, so he was leaving and coming out and it was like 2 27, like you had said, it was 2 27 and. He waves to some people and over where the plaque is at is where the gunman was standing.

Hinckley was 

Scott: standing. Yeah. So the picture that’s shown right now, this is the picture, one of the pictures that I took while we were there. We were in DC a couple weeks ago, and so we went up there. It was really cold and the this Washington Hilton is still used. It looks almost exactly like it did, 42 years ago. So there’s the plaque right there, you can see right there on our screen. And so Jen’s talking over there in the better light. I’m over here behind the camera taking the pictures.

And so that’s the that’s, I’m standing right where it happened. 

[00:03:45] Six Shots from Hinckley

Jenn: And so you get Hinckley who fires six rounds in succession and he has a revolver. So you can only fire six rounds. Yep. And the first shot actually hits the Press Secretary Brady. And we’ll talk more about that because you get the Brady bill that will come out of this.

He hits him in the head. Brady goes forward it will impact Brady for the rest of his life. He will be in a wheelchair. The second shot hits Tom Delaney. . He’s a police officer. Police officer. Okay. And as he hits him in the back, he says, he yells I’m hit. So it’s sets the events too.

And, but he falls forward and now you have a clear path to the president. Yeah, so he basically, Hinckley has taken out the two people that kind of were in the path of President Reagan. This third shot hits Jerry Parr, and that’s the person who pushes him into the limo. That’s the Secret Service agent.

As you can see he’s the one who has the jacket and he’s pushing him at the same time. And. The shot goes actually over the over his head, so it doesn’t really hit Jerry Par, but the fourth one is going to hit. The other secret servants agent, that’s Tim McCarthy. Yep. And he’s gonna hit him in the chest.

So he does his job. So what happens is the two people go down. Brady is hit, he goes down, the police officer hit in the back, he says, I’m hit. I go down. The fourth shot goes over their heads. But Par is pushing the president into the limo. Delaney turns towards the gunfire shots. Yep. And spreads out his arms just like a secret service agent is supposed to do.

Yeah, he makes himself a bigger target and he gets hit right in the chest. And then the fifth shot hits the limo window, but it’s the sixth shot that gets the president. It’s the sixth shot that ricochets off the parking lot, hits the back of the limo. And because the limo is bulletproof, it actually ricocheted back ricochets into the armpit.

Oh, I didn’t realize that. Oh, 

Scott: Ronald Reagan. Yeah. And I, and if I remember right and the thing with our video. There’s a ton of video you guys can find a ton of videos on. The Reagan shooting, you could find a ton of journalists that have done it over the years, recently, 20 years ago, 30 years ago.

And they do some very in depth, they actually drive the route and do, and, of film on the whole thing. So we actually use those as a little bit of research on our side. So there’s some really good ones. But one of the things I think I remember him talking about, They just, they didn’t realize he was hit right 

[00:06:02] It happened so fast

Jenn: now.

They didn’t realize he was hit because he, again it’s a ricocheted bullet that’s getting him in like the back left armpit. So I’m doing my right, my, the left armpit. His injuries were not noticed at first. 

Scott: And I actually enjoyed learning the call, like the call sign or the secret service call sign. Yes. That was 

Jenn: was Rawhide 

[00:06:19] Rawhide

Radio: back to the White House. Back to the White House Rawhide is okay.

Jenn: Raw Hyde for the president. And they called the White House the Crown.

Yeah. So they get in the limo. The Secret Service hand shoves his hands on the president to look for anything. He doesn’t see any blood because it’s in his back left armpit. And he goes, okay, let’s head towards the crown. So that’s what you hear on the radio, 

Radio: We’re going, we’re going to crown

Jenn: but then President Reagan starts to cough up blood.


Scott: and the other funny thing is too, the people on the radio are so worked up. That some people are forget to use the call signs. Yes. About that. Some people say are you going to the White House?

And they’re he’s like going to the crown. 

Radio: You wanna

go to hospital or back to the White


We’re going, we’re going to crown

Scott: Yes. And then they pick the alternate location once he figures out 

Jenn: that he’s been shot. So when he starts to cough up blood, the secret servant agent realizes right away that there’s blood in his lungs and he has to make a call.

Radio: Roger, we wanna go to the emergency room of George Washington. Roger. Oh, George Washington. 

Jenn: Yeah. And he has to And you have to say it over the radio. Yeah. So here he is. Everybody who can have access to a radio, that Raw Hyde is going to George 

Scott: Washington. Yeah. And that’s what right is, he says like Rawhide is hit or raw. Hy is going to George Washington 

Jenn: Raw Hyde is going to George Washington.

Yeah. And. So that’s the name of the hospital, George Washington University Hospital. So he’s using the exact name and he had to really weigh national security. 

Radio: Oh, George Washington. Roger George Washington.

Ambulance, I the, uh,

Jenn: The president will walk himself into the emergency room. Oh, I didn’t realize that. So he does make a good show and then as soon as he gets laid down on the gurney and they realized this seriousness of this they don’t put him under until Nancy Reagan gets there.

Oh my gosh. And says, says, Something to him and he says, I forgot to duck. That’s what he told. I’m sorry, honey, I forgot to duck. 

Scott: Yeah, and so if you see on the, on, on the screen here, if you’re watching the live stream, you can see this is us at the emergency room. This is at us, at the Washington.

Hospital. So this is across the street and then up here, right? It’s Rogan, Ronald Reagan, Institute of Emergency Medicine. So 

Jenn: he goes into the, he walks himself into the emergency room. Yeah. So 

Scott: They named it after him. I don’t know when they did that, but it was neat.

Again, just being right there, like the George Washington, university hospital. 

Jenn: So Nancy comes in, he tells her I forgot to duck, which I think is really funny. But I, what I, one of the things I really love about Reagan, he keeps his morale up and he keeps people around him, his morale up.

So before he goes in for surgery and before they put him under, he looks around at all this. The medical staff and the surgeon, and he says, I hope you’re all Republicans. Yeah, I know you, you love that story. I love that story. And because the head surgeon, who’s actually a Democrat Yeah. Says Mr.

President, we’re all republicans today. Yeah. I love that a democrat would say that to him to put his mind at 

Scott: ease. And that’s a, and it’s. I love it because it’s so stereotypical of Reagan too. That’s what he was known for. We were doing our research on Reagan.

We were watching videos and they talked about all the time, like how he would crack jokes during his speech. 

Reagan: Mr. Speaker, Mr. President, distinguished members of the Congress, honored guests and fellow citizens. Today marks my first State of the Union address to you, a constitutional duty as old as our republic itself. President Washington began this tradition in 17. After reminding the nation that the destiny of self-government and the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty is finally staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.

For our friends in the press who plays a high premium on accuracy. Let me say, I did not actually hear George Washington say that.

Scott: Like un unlike a lot of his predecessors, before him. Yes. And So even in that time, right? He’s getting ready to go under for surgery. He’s cracking jokes.

So it just really encapsulates him in his persona right then and there. 

Jenn: Yes. And so he will go under surgery. They will find the bullet. They will patch ’em up. We read that the Oscars were supposed to air that night, so they delay the Oscars for one night because the president had actually recorded a message for the Oscars.

[00:11:08] The Oscars message from Reagan

Johnny Carson: Thank 

you very much. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sure that all of you here, and most of you watching tonight, understand why we had delayed this program for 24 hours because of the incredible events of yesterday. That old adage, the show must go on, seemed relatively unimportant. The Academy, ABC Television, and all of us connected with the show.

Felt because of the uncertain outcome. As of this time yesterday, it would’ve been inappropriate to stage a celebration, but the news today is very good. As you know, the president is in excellent condition. At last reports, he’s been conducting 

crowd: business 

Reagan: and he’s, uh, 

Johnny Carson: and he happens to be in very good spirits. Uh, after all, you must remember, this is a man who, y. While he was in the hospital, unable to speak, wrote on a sheet of paper, all things considered, I’d rather be in Philadelphia. So tonight the show does go on. Now, two weeks ago, president Reagan videotaped an opening greeting for this occasion.

We were in contact with the White House about two hours ago, and it was the President’s express wishes that we use for that introduction. And I might add, uh, you might like to know that he also asked for a television set in his room so he could view this program. 

crowd: I was, uh,

Johnny Carson: actually the president was in such good form today. I was very tempted to call him and ask him if he had any more of those one liners that I could use. So it is especially pleasing tonight, ladies and gentlemen, to be able to say, Here is the President of the United 

crowd: States

Reagan: to my fellow Americans eagerly awaiting the presentation of the 53rd Annual Academy Awards. It’s surely no state’s secret that Nancy and I share your interest in the results of this year’s balloting. We’re not alone. The miracle of American technology links us with millions of movie goers around. It’s the motion picture that shows us all, not only how we look and sound, but more important how we feel when it achieves its most noble intent.

Film reveals that people everywhere share common dreams and emotions. Tonight, I applaud all who create, make, distribute, exhibit and attend movies. I salute the academy for the influence its work has on the world’s most enduring art form. Film is forever. I’ve been trapped in some film forever myself and as a former member of the academy.

I ask you now to join Nancy and me in enjoying this year’s ceremonies.

Jenn: The one thing that was scheduled that didn’t get canceled was the NCAA basketball. Championship was playing that night. That same night. That same night. Oh, wow. And they didn’t delay that, but they did have a moment of silence for the president.

Wow. He’s only there for 11 days and he, again, the this is an interesting time in the country too because things are happening fast, right? This is this assassination attempt. President’s shot, president’s going in for surgery, so people are like, Who’s in charge? George Bush is hearing about this in the air.

He’s on Air Force two. So he is hearing about this in the air, and this is when you get the speaker of House who makes that statement? I’m in control. 

Alexander Haig: And there are. Absolutely no alert measures that are necessary at this time or contemplate. Uh, now if you have some questions, I’d be happy to take them. Who’s making the decision?

Constitutionally gentlemen, you have the president, the vice president, and the Secretary of State in that order, and should the president decide he wants to transfer the helm to the vice president, he, he will do so. As of now, I am in control here in the White House, pending return of the vice president and in, in close touch with him, if something came up, I would check with him.

Of course.

Jenn: . And he’ll say, I’m in control. And people go, what? That’s not how it works. 

Scott: Yeah, that’s there’s another person in between you, right? There’s, 

Jenn: there’s a couple steps, but the Secretary of State, like it’s gonna go president, vice President, secretary of State Vice, secretary of Defense.

Like you have all these secretaries that before the speaker of the house is gonna, as speaker of the house is third in line. Is that was third. Yeah. So he says, I’m in control. Yeah. And so that’s too funny. Bush is like in the air. He’s what? What? I still exist, say hello. So that happens.

But another thing that’s happening in 81 at the time is news coverage. 

Scott: Yeah. It was so this recording the early end of that CNN type 

Jenn: era. Yeah. Yeah. C this is CNN’s first year. And so N B C was there, a, B, C was there. That’s where you’re getting the cov, the very good angle of everything that’s happening and CNN starts to play.

Over and over again. And CNN runs it for full 24 hours with updates as they go. And some of the things they get wrong is they get wrong that Brady was killed. And it takes a while before they realize that Brady was not killed. So that’s one of the first things they do report. But what happens is it really cements CNN as being a place to go for very.

To date. Yeah. And 

Scott: just kind of minute by minute, 24 hour news. Yes. 


Jenn: you wanna go for good coverage actual up to date coverage. Yeah. The CNN was the place to go that, like I said, they only been around for a year, but doing this 

Scott: I’m sure that was, they were like the place.

Yes. Because every oth all the other. Typical networks would take breaks. They would go to their other programming and this, that and the other. And this is, this event happens. It was laid their foundation of yes, this is what we do. 

[00:16:49] John Hinckley

Jenn: Now when we talk. Hinckley the shooter. A lot of people, John Hinckley Jr. Who is the one who fires, has gone at the president and eventually will kill. Brady he says he does it to get the attention of Jodi Foster. He had seen Jodi Foster a taxi driver, and he was very enamored with her.

And so he thought if he did this, he could bring attention to himself. Jodi Foster in return has only ever spoken about this four 

Scott: times. Yeah. I thought this was really, I thought this was interesting, and I, and when you said that to me, I was. I don’t blame that. I 

Jenn: don’t blame her.

Jodi Foster: I don’t wanna jeopardize the prosecution without, without getting specific. Was he threatening amorous? What was he like? I’m not allowed to say, um, I, I believe that it’s, you know, that the, the letters were assumed to have been, you know, loved type lips. When did you first realize the connection between the Hinckley and the letters and the Hinckley who shot the president?

Um, well, how many Hinckley do you know? 

Jenn: Yeah. She doesn’t wanna give attention to him. Yeah. She doesn’t want him to get what he wanted from her. So she spoke about it immediately after she did an op-ed and wrote about it, and she spoke about it to others. Times and interviews. She’s asked about it and she commented on it. She will go out of her way to cancel interviews or walk out of interviews if they ask her about this.

And she has told them that she’s not gonna speak on it. Yeah. To the point, like she doesn’t wanna give it power. Sure. She doesn’t wanna give Hinckley 

Scott: power. Yeah. I can understand that. 

Let’s, so what you know, for obvious. Hinckley was captured. I I’ll be perfectly honest, I don’t actually know what ended up happening to him.

I know he was convicted, pled insanity plan, 

Jenn: insanity, which is of course he’s insane. I wanna be like, it’s kinda, kinda obvious. You’re insane. But because no one I think died. So I think at the time, no one was killed. Right when it happened. Right when it happened. 

Scott: So I even though Brady, passed away later, 

Jenn: later, much later, okay.

Even though nobody was killed, he could plead insanity. He was put in, he was institutionalized. He was just recently released. Oh, really? And it’s because the president is dead. Yeah. Now Reagan is dead and Brady, so they, and I think he’s very limited in where he can go and he’s very watched and monitored, but 

Scott: yes, he’s, I’m surprised.

I don’t think I even realized that. 

Jenn: I know it’s, it is interest. But yeah, James Brady will never recover from this.

He’s disabled. He will maintain. Press Secretary for the rest of the year. Yeah. But it’s more of a positional Yeah. Title. Sure. Because he will be in a wheelchair and it will impact his speech. And then he passes away in of August of 2014. Yeah. And I, like I said, the medical examiner will rule it a homicide because he will succumb to the injuries that he received from that gunshot wound to the head.

Tim McCarthy is still alive, the secret servant that Adrian got shot in the chest. Oh wow. Had three children afterwards. And the police officer Tom Delaney is also still. Who was shot in the back? One thing that I thought was interesting is the President’s approval rating goes up after 

Scott: this.

Yeah. I’m not, that’s not super surprising. People rally around. Yeah. You A horrible event like that. People, it doesn’t matter what your, if you disagree with Reaganomics at the time or not. People are gonna rally around something that’s, obviously Hey, you can’t be shooting the president.

Jenn: Yeah. And I think people, again, Reagan, he’s such a good. Communicator. Yeah. And so he’s so good with people and putting them at ease and building morale. Yep. That I think people saw, just the way he handled the whole thing. I think when he comes out of surgery, he asks, does anyone know what the shooter’s beef was like?

He was very good on off the cuff. He delivers a line well, and he’s a actor, right? So when you think about it, like he was very good at giving speeches. Yeah. He was very good at making the country feel at ease. I remember when the Challenger disaster happens and he speaks to America, 

Reagan: Ladies and gentlemen, I’d plan to speak to you tonight to report in the State of the Union, but the events of earlier today have led me to change those plans. Today is a day from mourning and remembering. Nancy and I are pain to the core, but the tragedy of the shuttle challenger, we know we share this pain with all of the people of our country.

This is truly a national loss. 

Jenn: He was just one of those great deliver.

Of, an orator. Yeah. Basically. What another thing that I thought was interesting is the Dow Jones dips the next day, but it pops right back up after he comes outta surgery. 

Scott: Oh, interesting. So just of a little market uncertainty. 

Jenn: And I don’t think there’s been a assassination attempt on the president since. Not that I am aware of. Yeah. Not that, not that the public is aware of. But there hasn’t been something that was so close. Yeah. And the president actually got bodily harmed from.

Yeah, so it was very, it was a neat story to do. 

Scott: But it was super fun and we wanted to, we made the extra effort tonight to come on a little bit later and do this on the anniversary, even though we haven’t made the video.

So I know even less than I normally would because normally I do all my learning when I’m editing those videos. To those listening, thank you for listening to the Talk with History podcast, and please reach out to us at our website, talk with history.com. But more importantly, if you know someone else that might enjoy this podcast or this video, please share it with them, and especially if you think today’s topic would interest them, shoot ’em a text, tell ’em to look us up.

We rely on your community to grow, and we appreciate y’all every day. We’ll talk to you next time. Thank you. 

Published by Scott

The mountains are calling, let me grab a jacket and my kids.

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